libel law - Gil Cohen Magan - 22112011
The Knesset plenum during a marathon session of debates, over the judge appointment panel and a reform to libel law, November 22, 2011. Photo by Gil Cohen Magan
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Seventy-three percent of Israelis think the proposed amendment to the libel law will harm freedom of speech, a survey conducted by TheMarker and the law firm Ariel Shemer and Partners found.

The contentious proposal would increase, from NIS 50,000 to NIS 300,000, the libel damages a judge could award without requiring the complainant to provide proof of injury.

But 41% of respondents support the proposal, which implies that at least some of them don't object to harming freedom of speech in the name of protecting reputations. Another 34% oppose it.

The proposal comes at a time when the Supreme Court is working to strengthen free speech.

Last week the court ruled in favor of journalist Ilana Dayan, overturning a lower court's ruling that Dayan defamed a man identified as Captain R. in reporting that he killed a Palestinian girl in 2004. In the verdict, Justice Eliezer Rivlin gave further backing to responsible journalism due to its role in preserving democracy.

The proposed amendment, on the other hand, would shift the balance toward protecting citizens' reputations.

The survey, conducted two weeks ago among 500 Jewish Israelis, found that secular respondents were the most likely to say the change would cause significant damage to free speech: 26% agreed with the statement, as did 24% of ultra-Orthodox and 17% of people who identified themselves as traditional Jews.

Of the latter group, 3.2% said they had filed a libel suit, compared to 1.7% of secular respondents.

In addition, younger respondents and men were more likely to oppose the change. College graduates were more likely to support it.

But most people don't seem to think they personally need the protection: 92% of respondents said they never considered suing for libel.